“You can’t save the world Jenni”. This is what Jon said to me recently when I told him my offer to Mr. X was rebuffed. Mr. X is currently sleeping his nights at the Manassas VRE station, in the waiting lobby. A buffer from the cold, the lobby is perhaps 50-55 degrees. The outside temps are in the low to mid 20s this week. I met Mr. x last week while I lulled about waiting for the 5:50am train to DC for work. He sat on one of the benches staring straight ahead. We exchanged a friendly hello and a smile. I saw him again the next morning but he was slumped over sound asleep and I didn’t want to disturb him.
When I got to work that morning I called our church. “What can we do for him?”, I asked. “Is there a shelter I can take him to?” Answer: no. There is only one shelter in Manassas and it’s over capacity and not accepting new walk-ins. Our church used to put the homeless up in hotels but after a few got destructive the local hotels barred the practice. I was certainly hesitant to bring home a stranger into our home to sleep- he could be violent or prone to unpredictable behavior or morals. So what to do? I put out the word on facebook but none of my male friends were willing to take in a stranger either.
Seeing him again earlier this week I studied him while he slept. I tried to imagine his dirty capped hands cleaned from a hot shower. Tried to imagine his unruly hair trimmed and his face shaved clean and proper. Tried to imagine his clothes washed. He awoke and our eyes met. I said hello and he smiled. I asked him if there was anything I could bring him next time we met, perhaps a blanket? His brows furrowed and he snapped a sharp “no” at me. My attempt to help was clumsy and ineffective and I was sad. His eyes softened again and he offered me his seat on the bench- a true gentleman.
I think of Mr. X and I think of the thin line we walk between having and not having. Between mental illness and health. Between war and stability within our communities and between nations. Many of us are blessed not to know hunger, homelessness, mental illness or violence when its the default state for many peoples of the world. I don’t know Mr. X’s story. He was gone yesterday morning and I wonder where he is. I’d like to think a spot in the shelter opened or he found refuge in the home of a friends. But I don’t know.
Update: Mr. X reappeared this morning in the station. I wish there was something I could do for him without impugning his dignity.